We are 6 games into this season and the Blackhawks finally suffered their first regulation loss vs. Arizona. This puts their record to 3-1-2.
The biggest news is that Corey Crawford returned on Thursday and looked good. While he did let in 3 goals, he was hung out to dry on a couple and didn't look out of place at all.
Well, he and the Hawks are going to ramp up in the next few weeks.
The Hawks have back-to-back games this weekend. Starting tonight, they visit Columbus and head home tomorrow to play Tampa Bay (Sun).
From there, the Hawks host Anaheim (Tuesday) and the New York Rangers (Thursday) next week, followed by another back-to-back weekend – @St. Louis (Oct 27th) and Edmonton (Oct 28th).
Then, from Halloween onwards, they play 5 of their next 6 games on the road. This will either be a great time to continue to bond and grow as a team or to do some soul-searching.
Here are 6 thoughts after the Hawks first 6 games:
1) The Hawks coaching staff has been searching for the right combinations early on. Coach Q has been better over the last couple of years in my opinion at sticking with pairings and lines when he sees long-term success.
The Hawks "top line" has been a nice surprise with Toews leading the way, being flanked by Debrincat and Kahun.
Keith and Jokiharju on the backend have been the standout pairing on there.
Overall, I have been liking the decisions by Joel and his staff because keep in mind, this is a huge evaluation year for them as well and it looks like they are on top of their game to start the season.
However, if I was to nitpick, one of the areas that I've been perturbed by recently is the mixed messages Q has been sending to Brandon Saad.
Let's keep in mind that I have no idea what's been said behind closed doors, but the Saad thing has been a little weird.
It's no secret that the Hawks need him to be a solid top 6 player for them this year. Hopefully, this white jersey threat will light a fire in his belly (although he didn't show too much in limited 13+ mins TOI).
I don't mind sending a message to a player, but it has to be consistent (to a certain degree) throughout the lineup Where I saw a missed opportunity to do this was when Chris Kunitz tossed the puck right on the stick of Clayton Keller for ARI's 3rd goal.
I know he's a veteran but when he went back out there for a couple more shifts immediately after that gaffe, I wouldn't have been too happy if I were Saad.
Then this was followed up by Kunitz staying in the lineup at practice today AND finding himself on the 2nd PP unit.
It's only a small (but detrimental play) but it's mixed messages like this that can frustrate players in the room.
2) We can't go on too much further without talking about Corey Crawford again.
It's all been well documented but his journey back to playing last night was inspiring.
The Hawks season looked like it could be destined to be on the backs of Cam Ward and Anton Forsberg, which was a troubling thought to most. Now, there's room for optimism with the thought of playoffs dancing in some people's heads.
This team has holes, no doubt. I'm not suggesting that the Hawks, 6 games into the season are guaranteed a playoff spot, but damn, after watching Crow look a lot like Crow last night, it's hard not to get excited.
The Hawks will have to make a decision on Anton Forsberg and I've heard they really (really) don't want to lose him on waivers.
They are in a tough spot because if Forsberg makes it through to Rockford, Jeremy Colliton will have a difficult task of juggling him and Delia all year.
Then, you have Kevin Lankinen in the ECHL which is not something he signed up for, I'm sure, after playing in the Finnish Elite League the last few years.
3) I was surprised to see Alex Fortin get the nod by the Blackhawks over guys like Matthew Highmore and Victor Ejdsell when they called him up on October 10th.
It looked like the Hawks wanted Dylan Sikura to get some confidence and playing time in the AHL, so I wasn't shocked to see him stay when the Hawks needed an extra body, but Fortin surprised me.
I know the Hawks really liked his camp and like the position, Fortin puts him in with his speed. I personally also like that he plays bigger than his profile says and digs out pucks on a line with Schmaltz and Kane.
However, I can't help after watching him for a couple games now, that he is Victor Stalberg reincarnated. Our friend Al Cimaglia also noted this on Twitter after the last game.
Stalberg was also a guy with elite speed but couldn't put it together and consistently finish in the NHL.
Fortin only had 4 goals in 53 games in the AHL last year and while I'm not giving up on him, I am curious if he is just not a finisher and will never be a guy who plays more than a depth bottom 6 role in the NHL.
You know who did a great job finishing last year was Matthew Highmore (24 goals). He also had 105 goals in the QMJHL and is off to a solid start in Rockford with 2 goals in their first 5 games.
Highmore is also quite fast (2nd in AHL skills comp. last year) and very versatile. It's his high-end motor that he uses to disrupt plays, dig out pucks AND finishing ability that would be welcomed right now alongside Kane and Schmaltz.
4) Speaking of Patrick Kane, this guy needs to help on his line.
I just noted above that Fortin isn't finishing for him and couple that with Nick Schmaltz's play right now, Kane must be frustrated.
The latest lines at practice have Nick Schmaltz on LW now with Artem Anisimov reunited with Kane.
AA is not fast, we know this. However, he looks solid to start the year though primarily playing at 3C, plus he knows how to play with Kane.
I know the Hawks were(/are) banking on Schmaltz being a future top 6 C on this team for the long-term future, but I'm wondering if that is still the case.
He's beyond terrible on the draws, which young players typically need a lot of reps in that area to improve at this level, but it's becoming a problem.
He also looks lost out there on most shifts and now that the Hawks finally have Jonathan Toews rolling again, they cannot waste that on a non-productive Patrick Kane due to his linemates.
5) This brings us to the "bubble players".
The Hawks just sent down Luke Johnson and I suspect he will be back at some point. The Hawks want him playing and don't have room for him at centre right now.
My thinking is that Fortin will find himself back in the minors for the same reason – playing time. He's young and if he finds himself on the outside looking in, might as well get him back down there.
Something will have to give in terms of roster spots though with the Anton Forsberg situation, as well as Forsling returning in a couple weeks.
My prediction would be:
* Forsberg sent to AHL (yes, he clears waivers)
* Forsling activated for the road trip out West (Oct 31st)
* Brandon Davidson waived and heads to AHL
* Dylan Sikura recalled after 9 AHL games to join the road trip out West (Oct 31st)
6) The Hawks head to Columbus to play sports with Artemi Panarin tonight. The BJs are 4-2-0, led by the Breadman and his 9 points in 6 games.
After the match tonight, the Hawks will charter a plane home to rest up and face the Lightning on tomorrow to face another tough opponent. TB is off to a nice 4-1-0 start.
Corey Crawford will get the nod tonight and Brandon Davidson is set to make his appearance in place of Brandon Manning.
In the AHL, the Rockford IceHogs made it exciting last night coming back from 3-0 to tie the game up 3-3 after Anthony Louis and Jordan Schroeder came through in 3rd for the IceHogs. Unfortunately, Rockford lost in OT to fall to 2-2-1.
The rubber match goes tonight as they get another crack at the Tucson Roadrunners tonight at 7pm.
Jeremey Colliton is still trying to work out the kinks with this team. Here's hit post-game comments below.
I'll be on the boards and twitter-machine tonight for the game.